Until recently, conservation of Arctic animal populations have been focused on the saving marine mammals – whales, seals and polar bears, but without fish the ecosystem will fail. Prof. Daniel Pauly, head researcher at the Sea Around Us Project at University of British Columbia has compiled the first comprehensive report on fishery catches and the huge numbers of fish they have taken and what they want to take in the future. The vast tonnage seems unsustainable. Both the increase in fish moving north due to global warming of the seas and the receding of snow and ice make it easier to take 100s of tons more than ever before.
Growing migrating fish populations -a double edged sword
Fish are moving towards polar regions due to the effects of climate change.and increased accessibility of the Arctic areas from melting sea ice, will place immense pressure on the region for future large-scale fisheries.
University of British Columbia researchers estimate that fisheries catches in the Arctic totaled 950,000 tons from 1950 to 2006, almost 75 times the amount reported to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) during this period.
UBC does its homework
UBC’s Fisheries Centre and Dept. of Earth and Ocean Sciences reconstructed fisheries catch data from the limited governmental reports and anthropological records of indigenous population activities – for FAO’s Fisheries Statistical Area 18, which covers arctic coastal areas in northern Siberia (Russia), Arctic Alaska (the U.S.) and the Canadian Arctic.
“Ineffective reporting, due to governance issues and a lack of credible data on small-scale fisheries, has given us a false sense of comfort that the Arctic is still a pristine frontier when it comes to fisheries,” says lead author Dirk Zeller, a senior research fellow at UBC’s Fisheries Centre.
“We now offer a more accurate baseline against which we can monitor changes in fish catches and to inform policy and conservation efforts.” (Thank you-Mother Nature)
Official FAO data on fish catches in Area 18 from 1950 to 2006 were based solely on statistics supplied by Russia and amounted to 12,700 tons. The UBC team performed a detailed analysis and found that it’s only the tip of iceberg.
The team shows that while the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service’s Alaska branch currently reports zero catches to FAO for the Arctic area, the state agency, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has collected commercial data and undertaken studies on 15 coastal communities in the Alaskan Arctic that rely on fisheries for subsistence. The estimated fish catch during this period in Alaska alone totaled 89,000 tons.
While no catches were reported to FAO by Canada, the research team shows commercial and small-scale fisheries actually amounted to 94,000 tons in catches in the same time span.
Meanwhile, Russia’s total catch was actually a staggering 770,000 tons from 1950 to 2006, or nearly 12,000 tons per year. “Our work shows a lack of care by the Canadian, U.S. and Russian governments in trying to understand the food needs and fish catches of northern communities,” says Pauly, who leads the Sea Around Us Project at UBC.
“This research confirms that there is already fishing pressure in this region,” says Pauly. “The question now is whether we should allow the further expansion of fisheries into the Arctic.”
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